Here we cover seven references. The watch on the left was made in 1959, and the far right 1978.
Although to fresh eyes Speedmasters look all the same, or perhaps just two shapes, in fact there are numerous subtle differences that flow through the production, and affect values. The aim of this site is to help you decide what you want, how to spot it, and how much to pay for it once you have decided that it is correct, or right for you – or even what to pay for one that is not quite correct.
Here we cover Speedmasters produced over the first 21 years, up to and including the 145.022-78, which was the last year Omega marked the inside case back with a date. This period produced the most interesting examples, and while the post 78 watches are perfectly good, their values are pretty stable, and not worth the huge effort to dissect at this time. Their values are fairly stable.
Here is a detailed table of each of the seven references covered showing the sub-refererences.
The “Entry Level” Vintage Speedmaster purchase might be this:
This watch is in excellent all round condition and recently serviced. The parts are all correct. It would probably sell between two private collectors for around $3,500 – $4500. It is the last reference I look at in this site as after this point the date is no longer inscribed in the back. If this watch had some dial scarring, poor hands, incorrect bezel and no service, then the value could be as low as $2000.
The Omega Speedmaster was first released in 1957, and has been produced ever since. In fact you can still buy a calibre 1861 Speedmaster in an Omega Boutique for around $6,000. While the modern watch lacks almost all the charm I value in a vintage watch it is very close to the watches flown by NASA in later missions.
Values (Edited November 2017)
A smooth backed 861 should be around $2500-$7000 and an asymmetric 321 from $4500-$20,000. For straight lugs, the prices start at around $15000, up to $50,000 for a 2998 and for the 2915’s, (which are so rare that valuing them is incredibly difficult), I heard of sales up to $150,000. These are estimated values, there are watches lying outside these figures, but they would be unusual. (Unusually good or unusually bad). More detailed values are found in the Price Chart.
The value of a vintage Speedmaster depends on its condition, its originality, and its appearance. We have to learn to balance the state of the case, with the rarity of the reference and the overall attractiveness of the watch. For example I will buy a straight lug cased watch with a worn or polished case that would be in unacceptable condition for a less rare asymmetric one. Some watches are so rare that its acquisition is not a choice between a good one and a worn one, it is a choice between owning one or not.
Condition, Patina and Originality
These three things all combine to contribute to the attractiveness of the watch. We avoid all replacement parts, but ironically want what parts we have to be as close to “as new” as possible.
The three watches below illustrate this. The left watch is unopened since new. The centre watch is Omega serviced, replacing dial, bezel, and hands – the case has also been polished. Finally on the right is an example of a watch sympathetic care over the years:
Notice the centre watch has a bright harsh look from the Superluminova hands and plots – these are modern luminous material that glows much stronger than the original tritium. Notice also the centre watch carries a service bezel. The outer watches show gentle aging, something we call patina. This look is extremely hard to replicate using any other methods – it is only a result of gentle change over time.
Sometimes this degradation is attractive, and we call it patina. Sometimes the degradation is so strong, that it assumes an attractiveness all of its own, and not obvious to everyone.
New parts on a watch reduce its value (see here), as do replaced parts that while old, are incorrect for the reference. We must establish that the watch is correctly appointed. For this you will need to go through the individual pages for the reference.
Here is an important concept– the watch you like, may not be the watch I like, and that is just fine! The whole pleasure for me is finding the balance in a new purchase. It is a judgement call, a personal decision of what I think looks good. I encourage you to have the courage of your convictions and buy what you like, not what others tell you should – unless you also like it. The thing is, this is not rocket science. Once you have established the watch is correct, then the decision is all down to “Do you like it?” . The following pages will help you.
The last thing is that just because a watch has all correct parts, does not mean it is worth buying. Recent price rises in the vintage speedmaster market have drawn out some real rubbish. I was recently asked if a 105.012 was worth buying at $3000. You would have thought so, but every part, though correct, was terrible. The dial was blotched and missing all the lume, the hands were repainted badly, the bezel was dented, and the case had deep craters that a brutal polish had failed to remove.
I prefer to use my watches on leather, the older bracelets being old, less robust than what we expect of a bracelet today, and less aesthetically pleasing than leather (to me!).
However we need to know what should be on a watch we are buying in order to be able to value it and not loose it to someone else who does. This is the best information I have seen:
Limited Editions and Special Dials
While Omega became profligate with limited editions in later years, this period only had two. The 1969 18kt Gold commemorative and the 1975 Apollo Soyuz. The best essay on the gold Speedmaster is by Bradley Jacobs and can be read here. The Apollo Soyuz is very rare, and a very good article is here. (Since writing, the Apollo Soyuz article has gone commercial, and the link will take you to a site offering to sell you the book.)
The “Racing Dial” was first put on a Calibre 321 – I believe the 145.012. There was a blue sunburst dial fitted to various calibre 321’s. These dials are extremely rare and it is unlikely that we will come across them.
There is a Speedmaster for every pocket, assuming your pocket has at least $1800 in it. For that I would expect to buy a head (that is watch only, no bracelet) from the 1970’s. Probably with some issues.
Omega has since 1970 taken the Speedmaster name and used it on other references, which apart from the MkII, are unrelated to the Speedmaster I cover here as they carry automatic movements, and carry only superficial resemblances to the classical Moonwatch or Pre-Moon.
Speedmasters have a strong connection to the Space program and have a well earned reputation for ruggedness. There is much to be learned around the web on this, but outside the scope of this site.
They are not waterproof. No swimming in space.
“Pre-moon” vs Moonwatch
Up to around 1970 all watches had a smooth case-back, with a light acid etched Hippocampus. We call all smooth backed watches “Pre-Moons”.
Four types of backs, Pre-moons on the left, Moonwatches on the right with engraved wording.
After the moon landing, Omega produced engraved case backs, commemorating the event. These are “Moonwatches”. The name refers to the engraving on the back, not what they actually did.
Some other terms used :
- DO90 – dot over 90 bezel, fitted up to about 1969
- DN90 – dot next to 90 bezel, with tall Tachymetre letters.
- Dial indices – the luminous plots indicating hours on the dial.
- Franken-watch, or assembly, a watch made to imitate an original, but using parts from many different watches.
- Crown – knurled knob used to wind the movement.
- Hessalite – the proprietary name given to the plastic crystal.
- AML – Applied Metal Logo, Omega logo on the dial.
Omega has evolved into a corporate brand monster run by suits and accountants held accountable to shareholders. Even though most of the organization is now more Swatch than George Daniels, the kind and knowledgeable people in the Omega Museum itself are a pleasure to deal with. It is from the site you can order an extract of the archives to show the date your watch was made.
While I read several other fora, it has become obvious this is the most tolerant, knowledgeable collection of Omega people I have come across. Read it. Register. Contribute. Ask dumb questions (we all do), as politely as you can – be a part, not apart.
Moonwatch Only Book
When I heard that this book was coming out I rushed my site to the web before I got my copy, for fear of being accused of plagiarism. This book is quite the most well researched and informative tome on speedmasters I have ever read. If you want to buy any speedmaster you should buy it, and definitely if you want more than one cal 321 it will pay for itself. The authors have a site here.
Serial ranges quoted in this site are my best guesses, based on observation, and literature and other sources. Now the MWO book is out and they quote much more precise information. I bow to their superior research, and I think it would be unfair of me to quote them verbatim throughout this site, so I have left my own, much wider estimates. I have taken the liberty of removing any serial information that goes against the MWO information.
This site was born out of my little black book, and forced rest during a shoulder injury….
This is my own version of the MWO book!
Now go to the Assessment Page to learn the practicalities.